Americans can now order free COVID-19 test kits; N95s to be shipped to pharmacies

The federal government on Jan. 18 launched its website for Americans to request free rapid COVID-19 test kits be shipped to their homes. 

"Every home in the U.S. is eligible to order four free at-home COVID-19 tests," the website — covidtests.gov — says. "The tests are completely free. Orders will usually ship in seven to 12 days. Order your tests now so you have them when you need them." 

There is a limit of one order per residential address. Each order includes four individual rapid test kits, and orders will start shipping later this month, the website says.

The official launch of the site was expected Jan. 19, with the early launch in its "beta phase." 

As of 9 a.m. central time on Jan. 19, the site appeared to be fully operational, allowing users to input their information and request a kit. 

President Joe Biden's administration first announced the plans to distribute 500 million free tests to the public in December. In a Jan. 13 update, he announced the government would also ship an additional 500 million at-home kits to Americans' homes.

In a separate pandemic response move, the White House plans to send 400 million nonsurgical N95 masks to pharmacies and community health centers across the nation and make them available for free to the public, The Wall Street Journal reported Jan. 19. 

An official familiar with the matter told the news outlet that the masks will begin arriving at pharmacies and community health centers next week, with the program in full gear by early February. Most facilities that are part of the federal pharmacy vaccine program will distribute the masks, and there will be a limit of three masks per person to ensure broad access, according to the White House official. The masks are sourced from the Strategic National Stockpile. 

The CDC on Jan. 14 updated its consumer mask webpage to clarify that some masks and respirators, such as N95s, offer higher levels of protection than others. The agency's official COVID-19 mask guidance — which recommends everyone, regardless of vaccination status, wear a mask indoors in areas of substantial or high transmission — does not, however, recommend higher-quality masks over cloth ones. 

"CDC continues to recommend that any mask is better than no mask," Dr. Walensky said during a Jan. 12 White House news briefing. "We do encourage all Americans to wear a well-fitting mask to protect themselves and prevent the spread of COVID-19, and that recommendation is not going to change."

 

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